Buyers’ agents can get in trouble with estate sales outside of the normal course of business. It’s not just the real estate deal and the legal issues, there is actually one more step.
The last step in the puzzle is the “buyer’s risk tolerance”.
Knowing Your Client
This is the mantra of the investment manager, stockbroker and financial advisor. Everybody’s different!
To some people, a death within a house is an issue and to others, they could not really care less. It may be cultural, social, emotional; it doesn’t really matter. But, was does matter is the buyer’s reaction, the buyer’s perspective, the buyer’s view, the buyer’s emotional makeup.
And, don’t forget that there are often TWO buyers, so it may not be just the one person who’s doing all the talking.
Here are the three levels:
- any death at all,
- a natural death, taking place onsite,
- a violent death resulting from a serious altercation.
In some cases, this just throws off “bad vibes”. Someone just died, so there’s some “bad luck” out there.
There’s no solution to this. So, move on, find another property.
Naturally, make sure that the buyer always knows that it’s an estate sale, so that this information doesn’t come at the time of closing as a surprise.
Natural Death Onsite
This is somewhat controversial. While most people are not bothered by this fact, at all, a small minority find this information extremely troublesome. They just don’t like the thought of someone passing away in the house after a long illness.
In this case, the buyer’s agent could check the obituaries and find a notation to the effect “…. peacefully at home…. or …quietly at home after a long illness…”.
Again, personally you may not find this fact bothersome, but some people do.
However, even if you come across this information, following a 6 month illness, sometimes, the deceased may have been taken to the hospital at the last moment. So, this could be the saving grace to your buyer, who now feels that the property is fine.
A Death Resulting from Violence
This is somewhat more of a concern. This death arose from suicide, murder or manslaughter. No one really wants to have a picture in mind about this tragedy every time they enter the kitchen, the bathroom or the basement.
Naturally, the listing just says “Estate of John Smith” as the owner. There’s no further reference. But, as a buyer’s agent, you should look further. The statement “call listing agent before submitting offer” means just that. The information is not public, but it is to be disclosed to a potential purchase. So, CALL. In fact, it’s worth the phone call to ask some of these questions, even without the invitation.
At the very least, Google:
- John Smith
- John Robert Smith
- John Robert Smith, crime
- John Robert Smith, Toronto
- John Robert Smith, 123 Any Street
- 123 Any Street
- consider adding some other words like, crime, violence, investigation, charges, Court, proceedings, police etc.
If there’s any new news, then it should show up.
However, there may be other investigations that could be undertaken, for time periods before the internet. Why not make that clear, and leave that for the client to investigate personally. If that arrangement is not documented, then it likely falls under your responsibilities.
The Death Discount
The property still has value. You might want to negotiate a discount based on the lack of interested purchasers. This might not work if the property is land value only, and you are bidding against builders.
You want to make sure that if there is any discount associated with the property that you have taken advantage of it.
Representations in Offer
If you are concerned, but not sure, then place a clause similar to the following in the Offer:
- The Seller warrants that there have been no deaths which occurred on the premises due to natural or unnatural causes.
- The Seller warrants that to the best of his knowledge and belief there have been no deaths which occurred on the premises due to natural or unnatural causes.
- The Seller warrants that there have been no deaths which occurred on the premises due to unnatural causes.
- The Seller warrants that to the best of his knowledge and belief there have been no deaths which occurred on the premises due to unnatural causes.
The selection of which type of clause is appropriate will depend upon the circumstances.
There are other searches that could be undertaken. Police records can be checked and a copy of the police report obtained. There are also insurance claims and records that might be available.
Be sure to follow your fiduciary obligations. Know your client!
Brian Madigan LL.B., Broker